About her new book, “Startup”
What inspired you to write this book?
I started writing the book in January 2015. For context, I’ve been at BuzzFeed for five and a half years. Right now I‘m a full-time writer, but at the time I was managing and editing, and I felt like I needed my own creative project.
So I decided to write every day in January, a free-write. I didn’t go into it with a concrete idea or anything. I started thinking about the tech world, especially in New York City. I wanted to write something related to sexual harassment because the Whitney Wolfe Tinder lawsuit had just happened a few months before, and it was also the lead up to the Ellen Pao Kleiner Perkins trial, so those things were fresh in my mind. And so I thought, what would be an interesting way of exploring these issues, set in New York?
At the end of the month, I turned around and I had sixty pages. I thought oh my gosh, that’s crazy. I showed it to a friend and my agent, and they were both like, “This is great, you should keep going!”
So I was like, okay. I kept going and then we sold it in November 2015.
Wow, it sounds like that all happened pretty fast! I’m impressed.
Whenever I tell people how my publishing deal happened, I feel like I have to qualify it by saying that it’s very unusual. I sold it based on 100 pages and an outline. On the one hand, I want to say it is possible, but I don’t want people to think this is normal.
If you could go back to the beginning of your writing process, are there any additional themes that you would try to incorporate, based on what you’re observing in the tech world today?
Well, there was a draft of the book that had a little more of a Tinder storyline to it, and there was a little more about online dating.
Then, in a later version of the book, it didn’t end up really fitting with the rest of the story so it got cut. Later on I thought, should I have tried to fit that in? Because I do think it’s such a significant part of life as a twenty-something or early thirty-something and it feels weird that I didn’t have anything.
What has been your favorite response to the book so far?
Well, I have been SO gratified and surprised by how much people want a sequel! I didn’t write the book thinking that it would end on a cliffhanger. The ending is a little ambiguous.
I’ve been getting emails and people are tweeting at me, “I need to know what happens!” It’s just a reminder that when you write a book, you don’t know how people are going to react to it. That’s been a really nice thing.
So now I’m wondering, should I write a sequel? I don’t think I will, but I might.
On a writing career
How did you get to where you are now, career-wise?
My first job in journalism was at the Philadelphia Weekly. I edited arts and entertainment stories and I did that for almost two years. Then I decided to go to journalism school at Columbia.
After that, I worked at Gawker for about a year. Back then it was very much focused on New York and media gossip. That turned out to be really be a quick and dirty introduction to the media landscape in New York City.
Then I worked at the New York Observer. I got laid off in June of 2009, they probably laid off about a dozen people. I freelanced for a while and wrote for the Rolling Stone website. At that time, I kind of knew Ben Smith [editor’s note: Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed] just from the internet and we had a lot of professional contacts and friends in common. We started direct messaging on Twitter one day, and Ben said “I’m looking for someone to be a second-in-command who can handle features and arts and entertainment stuff.” And so I joined Buzzfeed in February 2012 in New York, then moved to LA in 2013.
And then about two years ago, I started talking to Ben about moving into a writing role. It took a few months to make the full transition to becoming a full-time writer.
I just recently started a new role writing about tech and startups in LA. That’s the cool thing about Buzzfeed — this is my third job here. It’s nice to be in a place that allows you to switch jobs
I think this actually might be a bit of good advice for people early in their careers. I’ve always been a job-switcher until now and I had never stayed somewhere for more than two years. This is the first time where it’s been like, “I want a new job” and I could try something new within the company. It’s nice to find a company where you can do that.
When looking at places to work, it’s good to ask things like, “What are the career paths here? What do people generally do after 2-3 years? Do they leave? Do they get promoted?” Especially for people in their first or second jobs, it’s not the first thing that you think about, but it’s important.
So, switching into the self-care and balance portion now - how do you define self-care?
I think self-care is something that you do for yourself that makes you feel good.
Has your relationship with self-care evolved?
Yes, definitely. At the beginning of my career, I was just so focused on work and I also went out a lot. I wasn’t living a lifestyle that was conducive to self-care, I’ll just put it that way. Well, I did always get a manicure — so maybe that was my one nod to self-care!
I think as I got a little older I tried to find more of that work-life balance, figuring out how to take that time for yourself.
I will freely admit that it’s a lot easier for me than people my age who have kids. I do think it’s really important to take some time for yourself. It could even be taking a walk around the block and leaving your phone at your desk. That can give you a moment of calm in the middle of the day. I’ve also found that when I manage to eat lunch not at my desk, it always makes me feel more human.
And then outside of work, I have a few things. I now go to a “restorative yoga” class every Sunday evening. I do ClassPass and I found this class and I love it. It’s basically like taking a nap with yoga props, in different positions for an hour and a half. It’s not for physical exercise, but it’s a good mental break. I find it extremely meditative and calming, so I’d encourage you to do that once a week. I do regular yoga classes too, but I have this class once a week.
I also still get my nails done. And I know they’re expensive, but I try to get a massage once a month if I have the money. I’ll do that for myself. I’d rather not go out to dinner a few times and spend that money on a personal treat. Again, I need to seek out those things that I know are going to calm me down and clear my head.
What are some things you enjoy doing with friends that isn’t the typical going out to dinner and drinks?
I definitely like watching movies or binge-watch movies, especially classic movies, like Soap Dish. It’s so funny and weird and from the 90’s. It’s also really great because I’ve seen it before so I can still talk to my friends and be more relaxed.
I also do like going to yoga or pilates or workout classes with friends.
Fun Lightning Round Q&A
Book you’re reading? I am reading Nick Bilton’s book American Kingpin, which is about the guy who started Silk Road.
Podcast you’re loving? I love Who? Weekly. As someone who has always been fascinated by D-List celebrities, it appeals to my interests. The Facebook group is hilarious.
Favorite snack for a night in? If I were planning my ideal night in situation, I would have to have popcorn and some sort of cheese board situation with at least one really stinky cheese that someone gets offended by.
Woman or women who are inspiring you right now? I’m always inspired by Roxane Gay, her writing is so amazing and I’m excited by her next book. A couple more ladies who are inspiring me these days are Samantha Bee and Issa Rae. Basically — they’re all women who are making things happen for themselves while also making really cool sh*t that makes people think and often makes people laugh, too.
As told to Alisha Ramos, May 2017. Lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
Photography by Heather Sten for Girls’ Night In.